Sustainability

A New Video Series: Overbrook's Visit to Urban Green

A few months ago, Foundation staff began brainstorming on how we might better utilize the abundance of new communication mediums to highlight and amplify our grantees critical work. And who better to explain and bring to life their work than the grantees themselves. With this in mind, Katie, armed with a tripod, microphone, and iPhone visited Urban Green in downtown Manhattan to interview a few members of their team and hear about their work.

The result is the three-minute video below which introduces you to a few of Urban Green’s amazing staff as they tell us about the organization’s mission, recent accomplishments, and upcoming projects. Urban Green is doing incredible work in our own back yard helping to transform NYC into a leader in green buildings. If you want to learn more about Urban Green check out their website here

This video series will be an ongoing project of Overbrook as we visit other grantees in our Environment and Human Rights programs. We hope you enjoy this as much as we enjoy creating these videos! 

Finally, we want to send a big thank you to Urban Green who graciously offered to be our first ‘guinea pig’ on this project.

Rebuild by Design Winners Announced!

Last week, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan announced the winners of the Rebuild by Design competition; a multi-stakeholder initiative that will place New York City and New Jersey waterfronts at the epicenter of climate change resiliency planning.

Over the last year and a half Rebuild by Design brought together many of the world's top engineers, architects, policy professionals and local community members to create innovative ways to minimize flooding and protect shorelines. Among their entries: building a series of protective breakwaters in New York Harbor that slow the force of waves while serving as living reefs to rebuild the dwindling oyster population; designing "hyperabsorbent" streets and sidewalks that would mitigate storm runoff; digging channels along streets to divert stormwater; and creating buildings that are designed to flood without being damaged.

The six winning projects - which will receive a combined $1 billion in prize funding - together provide a comprehensive plan of protection, enhancement, and innovation. Check out all the winners here!

Eco-Districts?

Check out this link to learn more about 'Eco-Districs' - a concept that's both really old and really new, somewhat borrowed (but not blue, as far as I know).

Courtesy of UCLA-Berkeley

From Llewellyn Wells, who's working to start an Eco-District pilot project in New York City: "An Eco District is a neighborhood or district with a broad commitment to accelerate neighborhood-scale sustainability. Eco Districts commit to achieving ambitious sustainability performance goals, guiding district investments and community action, and tracking the results over time. An Eco District is a neighborhood committed to sustainability with the components of empowered people, green buildings and smart infrastructure."

So what does that actually mean? Imagine a neighborhood which increases renewable energy use (relying on large players like nearby hospitals or industry) and energy efficiency, grows its green spaces, and decides as a community what it's most important sustainability goals are (more farmers markets? less noise? flooding protection? etc).

Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. are doing it - which means NYC can do it better and bigger! Want your neighborhood to be the next Eco-District? Let Llew know!

Waste-Full

As in, our cities and landfills are full of waste. Which is a waste, really. Because it doesn't need to be that way. What if, like Rob Ford's approval ratings, we could bring our waste down to ZERO?

That's right - zero waste. That's no pipe dream (which are also recyclable, btw), and major U.S. cities are getting on board, due in most part to the dedicated, results-focused, and passionate advocacy of national groups, like the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), regional ones like the Toxics Action Center, and local coalitions, including the Don't Waste L.A. campaign.

San Francisco has long had a zero waste policy, but now Oakland wants some of the (zero) action. It passed a resolution this March requiring the City's new recycling contract to meet four specific standards: (1) The City's recycling contractors must provide livable wages and health care for recycling workers; (2-3) the contractor also must provide a separate compost bin and convenient access to bulk-waste pickup to all residents; and (4) the City’s waste contractor must consider sending some of Oakland’s food scraps to a biowaste-to-energy facility where the waste would be used to generate electricity. This follows on the heels of the historic decision by the L.A. City Council to franchise its commercial waste and recycling programs.

Not to be outdone, the East Coast is also stepping up. A coalition of organizations dedicated to reducing waste presented their plan to divert 90% of Boston's waste from landfills by 2040. Boston's recycling rate, along with New York City's, has been disappointingly low for years, hovering around 20%. The increase would be achieved through means similar to other cities' mechanisms, including composting of residential and commercial organic waste, and increasing oversight of the recycling industry. The best part? Implementing these measures would actually save the City of Boston money on tipping fees, to the tune of $56/ton diverted. Not to mention that once you factor in 'external' costs (such as environmental pollution), dumping waste in a landfill is no longer an attractive financial proposition.

Rather, one might say, it becomes rubbish.

Earth Day also = Oceans Day

The nice thing about planting trees on Earth Day is that it's something everyone can do, and has a result that everyone can appreciate. It's a bit more difficult to, say, try and plant a coral reef, or mount a campaign to save these stud muffins. But on Earth Day, it's critical to remind ourselves that our Earth is, in fact, 70% ocean, and the ocean represents critical sources of carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and food. Just because we can't see the damage we're doing as easily as deforestation or air pollution doesn't mean we're not doing it:

- The ocean is acidifying;
- And getting polluted with millions of tonnes of garbage and chemicals;
- And getting overfished at a rate so rapid entire species are on the brink.
Wait - don't get too depressed and click over to buzzfeed! Here's something to calm you down. And there are things we are doing, can do, will do, and must do to change some of those numbers. This list is absolutely non-exhaustive, but represents some of what's going on:
- Recognizing and valuing "blue carbon" and protecting carbon sinks like marshes and mangroves;
- Growing coalitions of groups working on plastics, garbage, chemicals, biodiversity, and fishing, from Secretary of State John Kerry's recent announcement of the "Our Ocean" global conference to the Healthy Oceans Coalition;
- Promoting "Marine Protected Areas" in zones of high biodiversity - just like national parks;
- Knowing what fish you buy and eat, with fun and easy apps like this one from the Monterey Aquarium;
- Saying no and no and no to deep sea ocean mining and drilling;
- Cracking down on the hunting of whales, sharks, and dolphins and promoting safer fishing alternatives;
- Learning and having fun!
There is nothing so beautiful and unique as our Earth - all of it - no matter how many others future planets scientists might find. It nurtures us and it hurts us, protects us and exposes us, gives birth to us and embraces us when we return. It is us, and we are it, until the very end.

Spring Environmental Update!

Even if it feels like Lady Spring is dragging her feet/gotten lost on the road to get-warmer-already-ville, the calendar tells us it is indeed spring (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least). And so, in lieu of flowers, sunshine, and birdsong, we present: Overbrook's Spring Environmental Update!

Things are certainly coming up roses for LAANE (the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy). This week, under the leadership of Mayor Eric Garcetti, the L.A. City Council voted to replace the city's current waste and recycling system with the Zero Waste LA Franchise Ordinance, one of the most ambitious programs in the nation. Under the old regime, hundreds of small haulers competed to recycle the City's commercial waste, resulting in inefficiencies, unnecessary pollution, and a sector with poor oversight and enforcement. The new plan will implement a commercial franchise system with eleven districts, dramatically reducing truck traffic, emissions, and allowing for more effective oversight of recycling facilities. Passage of the new model would not have been possible without the dedicated and determined advocacy by LAANE and the Don't Waste LA Coalition, and is proof that coalitions of grassroots groups can prevail over larger corporate interests. Congratulations, LAANE!

Across the Pacific Ocean things are also getting greener, as Asia Pulp and Paper (APP)  - the largest producer of pulp and paper in Asia and a chronic violator of sustainable forestry practices appears to be on the road to enacting meaningful reform. And again, a determined and innovative coalition of nonprofit groups was the decisive factor. This coalition included Overbrook grantees Greenpeace, ForestEthics, Rainforest Alliance, and Environmental Paper Network (EPN). Now the pressure is on to keep the pressure on APP and make sure that it sticks to its commitments. Nonetheless, APP’s acknowledgment of wrongdoing is being cautiously lauded as one of the most dramatic turnarounds in corporate sustainability. You can read more about next steps and monitoring efforts here.

Finally, Game of Thrones is premiering this Sunday on HBO. So you can watch it and be glad that, at this world at least, winter isn't coming.